Home insurance key fact sheets and other new rules

They should make money matters simpler - so why haven't you heard of them?

When money matters

New consumer protections backed by government are always cause for celebration, aren't they? Sure, but only if you know about them.

Two crucial new rules were launched in recent times with zero fanfare – simple bank account switching (back in July 2012) and key facts sheets for home insurance (in November 2014).

Both have the potential to make your financial life better, but the banking and insurance industries have done nothing to promote them. Why? Because they're for the benefit of consumers at industry's expense – the very definition of a consumer win!

Moving your money

CHOICE research has shown that people really hate cutting ties with their bank. Out of enduring love and affection? Far from it. More like a fear of incapacitating inconvenience.

One of the biggest obstacles to moving your money is the worry that changing your direct debit and credit arrangements is going to result in a mess. The prospect of frustrating disruption of our personal economies has kept most of us grudgingly loyal – even in the face of serious banking dissatisfaction.

Our satisfaction surveys bear this out. The big four banks (CBA, ANZ, NAB and Westpac) have consistently recorded some of the lowest marks, for instance, yet that's where most Australians still park their money.

About two-and-a-half years ago the government of the day (a Labor one) set out to make bank account switching less traumatic. And since July 2012, rules have been in effect that are meant to make transferring your debit and credit arrangements a breeze. In fact, it's all supposed to go off without a hitch in about three weeks! First time you've heard of it? You're not alone.

So are the banks helping you switch?

Under the e-payments code, the bank you're switching to is supposed to help you transfer your direct credit and debit arrangements from your old account to your new one.

But the uptake by the banking industry appears to be lacklustre, maybe because the wording in the code is hopelessly complicated. A number of CHOICE staffers recently attempted to take advantage of the easy-switching protocol, with little success.

And when we visited branches of the big four banks, only NAB got it right. Bank staff at the other three – CBA, ANZ and Westpac – had never heard of the account switching protocol that came into effect well over two years ago.

How it's supposed to work:

  1. You ask your new bank to obtain a list of any direct debit, direct credit and periodic payment arrangements in place for the previous 13 months from your old bank.
  2. Your new bank has to try to obtain the list within three business days of your request (though it doesn't have to capture information for one-off payments through Bpay, internet 'pay anyone' or credit card-based payments.)
  3. Your old bank has to provide your new bank with all the details necessary to transfer the credit and debit arrangements within five business days.
  4. After your new bank gets hold of the debit and credit details, it has another five business days to contact you and confirm which arrangements you want to keep in place.
  5. You can then sign a form that authorises your new bank to notify the businesses involved in your direct debit and credit arrangements of your new BSB and account number.

Caveat! The complexity of this code defies simple explanation and may cause brain damage if you attempt to decipher it yourself. Suffice it to say, there are enough exemptions to prevent anyone from going to jail for not adhering to the code.

One of the code's many sub-clauses advises that account switchers “should retain an adequate balance in their existing account until they are confident that all requested regular payments have been transferred to the new account”. That's very good advice.

Nevertheless, it's worth asking your bank if they're adhering to the account switching rules. But first make sure you've found the right bank to switch to – one that charges the lowest and fewest fees and offers the banking services that suit your banking style (such as instantaneous transfers from a linked savings and transaction account).   

Who enforces the e-payments code?

The answer is the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), but there doesn't appear to have been much oversight since the July 2012 launch. ASIC hasn't conducted any compliance audits and told us it's currently focusing on adherence to another (and equally important) aspect of the code, how to deal with unauthorised transactions.

The e-payments code is technically voluntary, and banks and other deposit-taking institutions (such as credit unions) don't have to follow it if they haven't signed up. But it turns out that each of the big four as well as numerous other banking institutions have signed up, which makes the code “contractually binding” on them, an ASIC spokesperson told us. 

One noteworthy signatory, St.George Bank, declined to provide a CHOICE staffer with 13 months' worth of direct debit and deposit details and indicated it wasn't taking part in the process.

And when we visited branches of the big four banks, only NAB got it right. Bank staff at the other three - CBA, ANZ and Westpac - had never heard of the account switching protocol that came in to effect over two years ago. 

Home insurance key fact sheets: are you covered or not?

Home insurance key fact sheets are another 2012 initiative that are now in effect (after a generous two-year transition period). What are they? A simple, clear and brief explanation of what is and isn't covered by your home insurance policy that comes before the bewildering pages of fine print.

What's the goal? To prevent homeowners from thinking they're covered for something when they're not. The key fact sheet is meant to spell out in clear and simple language the most important features of your policy. But again, the insurance industry hasn't exactly launched a glitzy marketing campaign to raise awareness. In fact, we haven't seen anything.

Clear and simple? Home insurance fine print? Yes, comprehensible financial product information is a revolutionary concept – and long overdue. And it follows a similar initiative that standardised the way flood is defined across the insurance industry after plenty of consumer confusion about whether they were covered or not.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) confirmed that insurers have been required to provide key fact sheets since November 2014 before a customer enters a contract, but you'll have to ask for one if you're just considering a certain cover plan.

What does a key fact sheet look like?*

This sample key fact sheet tells you the basics of what the home insurance policy in question covers for major events, along with the all-important exclusions. But you should always read the product disclosure statement to get the full story. 



Conditions, exclusions, limits

Fire and Explosion


Fire – no cover for loss or damage from arcing, scorching or cigarette burns unless a fire spreads from the initial burn spot. Explosion – no cover for the cost of repairing or replacing the tank or container that exploded.



No cover for the cost of cleaning your contents.



No cover for the cost of cleaning your contents.

Accidental breakage


Depending on the level of cover purchased accidental damage is optional or automatically included in this policy.



'Earthquake or Tsunami' – no cover for loss or damage that occurs more than 72 hours after the earthquake or tsunami.



No cover for loss or damage caused by power failures or surges by your power provider.

Theft and burglary


No cover if loss or damage caused by someone who entered the insured address with your consent.

Actions of the sea


No cover for any actions or movements of the sea. Actions or movements of the sea do not include tsunami or storm surge.

Malicious damage


No cover for loss or damage caused by you or someone who lives at the insured address.



No cover for the cost of removing or lopping fallen trees or branches that have not damaged the contents.

Escape of liquid


No cover for loss or damage caused by liquid from a portable container e.g. plant pot, vase, terrarium, fishbowl, bucket.

High value items and collections


Selected items have a flexible limit that can be increased upon request e.g. jewellery and watches.

Items away from insured address


For an extra premium, cover can be purchased to insure certain items away from the insured address.

 *Based on sample Suncorp home insurance Key Fact Sheet.